>The question of paying taxes, or rather, the failure of some important people in government to pay their taxes, is in the news.
Michael Barone, writing in his blog, asked a very important question: “Why, oh why, can’t Democratic appointees pay their taxes?” Some of the people who have become tax dodgers have occupied important positions in government.
One of the persons who did not pay his taxes is Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader. Daschle was appointed by President Barack Obama to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle failed to pay $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest.
Daschle said he became aware last June that he owed taxes to the government so he instructed his accountant to look at his tax liability. However, Daschle did not pay the taxes. It was only after he was nominated to be the health secretary that he paid his back taxes with interest.
Another person who did not pay taxes is Nancy Killefer who was nominated by Obama to serve as Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget and Chief Performance Officer for the entire federal government. In this position, she would oversee how the federal government spends our tax money. Killefer failed to pay employment taxes on household help for a year and a half.
The third person who failed to pay his taxes is Tim Geithner who was nominated to be the Treasury Secretary and the person who will be in charge of the IRS, the very agency responsible for the enforcement of the tax laws. Geithner was the former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a man who served in three different administrations at the Treasury Department.
Geithner failed to pay back taxes for four years. Geithner confessed that he did not pay tens of thousands of dollars in federal self-employment taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund, even though he signed documents acknowledging his obligation to pay the taxes.
Then, there is the case of Rep. Charles Rangel, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the same committee that writes the tax laws that force every citizen to contribute to the government on an annual basis. Rangel failed to pay taxes on five years of income from a rental property and is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for other financial improprieties.
Revenue from taxation is crucial for the survival of a nation. A state cannot provide for some of the basic needs of its citizen without the power of taxation. The defense of a nation and the creation of an infrastructure required for the well-being of society demands the expenditure of money that must be raised by taxing individuals who compose that nation.
In the Old Testament, the people had to pay their taxes to the state. In the history of Israel it seems that it was with the establishment of the monarchy that taxation became a permanent obligation for every citizen. With the establishment of the monarchy in Israel, the people were required to pay for the extravagances of the government and many people did not like the demands imposed upon them by the state. There is evidence in the Bible that the people resisted taxation and the compulsory exaction of revenues.
After the return from Babylon, the Jews were required to pay an annual payment of one third of a shekel (Nehemiah 10:32). Soon, the third became a half, an amount of money that was paid by every Jew, in whatever part of the world he might be living.
Under the monarchy, a centralized government was established and with it came luxurious living and a large bureaucracy, two things that required a larger expenditure, and therefore a heavier taxation.
Samuel warned the people about how the king and his government would operate. He told the people that the king would take their sons and make them soldiers. The king would put some of the people to forced labor to work on his farms, plowing and harvesting his crops. The king would conscript some of the people to make either weapons of war or chariots in which he could ride in luxury.
Samuel also said that the kings would conscript some women to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He would conscript their best fields, vineyards, and orchards and give them over to his officials. He would tax their harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. He would take their prize workers and best animals for his own use. He also would lay a tax on their flocks and all their property and in the end the people would be no better than slaves. Then Samuel warned the people that the day would come when they would cry in desperation because of the oppressive burden imposed upon them by their king (1 Samuel 8:10-18). The day came, the people cried, but it was too late.
In Israel, the average citizen was not exempted from paying taxes. Only the king, by special dispensation, could declare a family or an individual exempt from taxation (1 Samuel 17:25). Nehemiah said that when people fail to pay their taxes, tribute, or duty the royal revenues will suffer (Ezra 4:13).
Today in America, people who do not pay taxes commit tax fraud and perjury. The tragedy about this evasion of paying tax liability is that these are the same people who for many years ate from the public trough and lived in luxury at the public expense.
The people who failed to pay their taxes are intelligent people, people who wrote, enforced, and administered the tax laws. If the people who work or worked for the government have a problem abiding by the tax laws and are not willing to pay their taxes legally, then our nation is in trouble.
When asked whether he would have paid his back taxes if he were not nominated to be Treasury Secretary, Geithner never answered the question. Cheating on taxes is a matter of honesty. In the society in which we live, many people lack this trait in their character.
The survival of our nation depends on the voluntary compliance of each citizen. Those who pay their taxes expect that those who will live from their taxes also pay their full share of taxes.
When confronted with Daschle’s situation, Obama said: “I’ve got to own up to my mistake, which is that ultimately it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules, you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”
But the action of these prominent people seems to indicate that there are two sets of rules. It seems that for some politicians it is easier to impose tax on other people because they know that they will not abide by the tax burden they impose on others.
In the Old Testament the tax burden became very oppressive on many Israelites. They complained bitterly about their situation because the abundance of their harvest went to the king (Nehemiah 9:37). The people complained: “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes, and . . . we have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax” (Nehemiah 5:3-4). Those people who did not pay their taxes were forced to mortgage their lands in order to pay their debt. At times, the creditors seized the debtors or their families and made them slaves until the debt was paid (2 Kings 4:1).
Maybe it is time to apply some Old Testament rules on those who fail to pay their taxes.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary